Saturday, August 18, 2007

Stop the Vick Madness

All those of you calling for Michael Vick's head, answer me this: which is worse, killing a few dogs or standing by while your friends kill two people? As such, why should Vick be given a punishment more severe than that which Ray Lewis received (a small fine and no suspension)? Or why should Vick's punishment be near that which Pacman Jones received for damn near killing a woman in Vegas?

Yes, Vick's actions were horrific. But I'd just as soon see the NFL send the message that violence towards people is far worse than violence towards dogs. So until it feels like the media and the NFL understand that people like Pacman Jones are far lower on the moral ladder than Vick, this is the last I'll care about the matter.


Mike said...

First off, I'm not calling for Michael Vick's head, simply because I believe in due process and the concept that all people accused of a crime are innocent until proven guilty. Also, I admit I'm quite suspicious of the fact that all testimony against Vick has come from people who are likewise accused of wrongdoing, though I suppose in cases such as these it's hard to find aught else.

However, if you're actually claiming that violence towards people is "far worse" than violence towards dogs, I have to completely disagree with you. I see no reason why a violent act against one sentient being should be any more or less deplorable than violence towards another, and the being in this case is also almost completely defenseless. What Vick is accused of is not merely murder: it's enslavement, forced performance of an act, battery, and then murder. If I remember correctly, Ray Lewis's friends didn't kidnap, rape, beat, and then murder those people.

Which isn't to say I'm happy with the disparity in punishments. I'm simply arguing that there is no "lower on the moral ladder" - they're all past the bottom rung.

Pierce said...

I think that's a pretty nontraditional use of the word "sentient," Mike. Most people don't consider dogs to be conscious organisms. While you may disagree, you thus wouldn't be a representative sample of the overwhelming movement against Vick.

Jeff's point, as I understand it, is that a major segment of Vick's critics are just jumping on the bandwagon; other sports stars have done things that are much more heinous by the critics' standards and yet aren't the focus of a massive outcry.

That said, I feel like we give sports stars' personal behavior way too much slack. They're paid millions of dollars, not just to be talented players, but because they're visible public icons. If they behave like assholes in their free time, I can only be supportive of the public calling them on it. (note: this doesn't mean their criminal penalties should be worse... just that their ad contracts and public reputation should be forfeit)

Mike said...

Ask any dog owner if their dog is a "conscious organism", Pierce, and I can guarantee which response you'll get. So I'm probably pretty representative of that demographic, at least, even though I no longer own a dog.

That having been said, I failed to make another point I wanted to. I think this Vick stuff touches on an interesting phenomenon in our culture, most commonly seen in films. I generally cite the moment while I was watching "Independence Day" when the whole audience jumped up and cheered when the dog jump to safety; apparently, it was completely acceptable for the filmmakers to kill off millions of innocent people, but if the dog had died, there would have been an uproar. Burt Lancaster put it best in an unfinished thought from "The Professionals" about killing horses: "We just killed ten men, nobody bats an eye. But when it comes to one of God's most stupid animals..."

If this is something that has extended to how we approach real life atrocities, that speaks volumes about the impact of entertainment on our culture. But I absolutely think that the fact that it's dogs has a lot to do with the outcry.

Pierce said...

Well I don't want to get too hung up on words, but I used to have two dogs and I don't believe they were "conscious" in the sense that's important here. Specifically, they're beasts, not self-aware in a meaningful sense but rather a collection of behaviors and instincts that make for pleasant companionship. I loved them, but I certainly didn't put their welfare on equal footing to a human's. Maybe that makes me species-ist but to go back to my point I think mine is a pretty common perspective.

But I agree with you about the "drama" of animal harm versus human harm. While we're on the subject of instincts, I think humans have a tendency to be protective of innocent and helpless creatures (probably so that we care about our children). A "friendly" animal like Old Yeller or Bambi's mom or the dog from Independence Day triggers that feeling, and so we end up more emotionally concerned about it than about the adult humans who we consider more self-sufficient.

However, I think this is a pretty superficial emotional phenomenon, and once they sober up most people would claim that harm to any human is a worse crime than harm to an animal. Jeff's point (again, as I understand it) is that Vick's critics seem to still be disregarding that standard long after the shock should have worn off.

By the way, Vick has accepted a plea agreement and will probably be going to prison.

Mike said...

Yeah, I seem to be the only one surprised that Vick accepted a plea deal. I mean, as I recall from the O.J. Simpson trial, and we don't send our star athletes to jail in this country.

And coming around to Jeff's actual point, and apologizing for dragging it off onto a tangent like I did, yes, it is ridiculous that this sparked an outcry while the others caused barely a whimper. However, I would postulate that it comes from Vick's status as much as anything else. I mean, Pacman Jones wasn't exactly a household name for non-football fans (and what little awareness people had of him was primarily due to his nickname). But Michael Vick has been well known since his days at Tech and is widely regarded as the best athlete in the NFL. Another cause of the disparity, IMO.